How This Tile Company Founder Landed on the Perfect Backsplash for His Own Kitchen

Plus his easy trick for a seamless drywall transition.
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island with glass doors

Lee Thornley and his partner, Phil Brocklebank, had only one disagreement when designing their Yorkshire, England, kitchen: what tile to use for the backsplash. Brocklebank made a case for graphic cement squares reclaimed from the south of Spain; Thornley argued that sandy-colored zellige in a 2-by-6-inch format would be timeless. But if you know anything about the couple, you already know who won.

As the founder of U.K.-based handmade tile manufacturer Bert & May, Thornley’s choice ultimately found its way onto the walls—but not before he made a loving compromise. The colorful Rio tile Brocklebank had picked out now adorns the kitchen fireplace. “It was perfect for it,” says Thornley. “It really feels like a piece of art.” Ahead, the tile pro reveals how they built a kitchen that makes everyone in the house happy. 

Treat Your Island Like Any Other Piece of Furniture

empty kitchen with blue walls mapped out

Something the couple agreed on from the get-go was tapping DeVol to construct their cabinetry. They landed on the brand’s Haberdasher’s line, which stars unpainted oak cupboards (finished with one coat of tinted oil to ensure any scrapes can be easily repaired) and an island that went through nearly 100 different design iterations before DeVol got it just right.

glass upper cabinet doors
island with glass doors

Even so, Thornley and Brocklebank decided to customize the central structure by extending it to 10 feet long, that way it would look at home in their extra-large open-plan kitchen. The see-through glass doors make it the go-to spot for dishes, but the old world–inspired piece also houses spices and cookbooks. “A recent favorite [recipe] of ours has been pad thai,” says Thornley. “The mix of flavors perfectly suits the freshness of the space.”

Match Your Wall Paint to Your Backsplash Tile

empty kitchen with blue walls mapped out
island with glass doors

Thornley’s thinking behind going with the Hessian Bejmat zellige for the backsplash was to let everything else in the space (the tambour-style slatted doors, the glazed glass pantry fronts) sing. So he took it a step further by having the walls and ceiling painted in Roman Plaster by Little Greene—it has the same pink undertones as the tile.  

Keep Your Cool Around Copper Counters

farmhouse sink with copper counters

Copper is the last material most people would want hanging out near their sink (when the metal is exposed to moisture and air, it oxidizes and takes on a greenish tint). But that’s exactly what Thornley loves about it. “Over time, the patina has naturally developed, enhancing its character,” he says. To clean it, they simply use a mixture of mild soap and water, avoiding abrasive cleaners at all costs. 

Channel Your Favorite Vacation Memories Into the Flooring

kitchen with wood cabinets and tiled fireplace

While it was important to Thornley and Brocklebank to pick materials that appear like they could be as old as the Georgian house itself (150 years old, to be exact), that didn’t necessarily mean sticking to a Yorkshire aesthetic. The raw, thick Bejmat floor tile, which is handmade in Morocco from a blend of clays and has a natural wear and tear to it, looks straight out of a Mediterranean villa. “I was inspired by the laid-back yet vibrant atmosphere of Los Angeles and the rustic charm of Spain, having spent time in both places,” says Thornley.

Lead the Way to the Pool

house with a natural swimming pool

The most important update the pair made to their kitchen isn’t actually in the kitchen at all—it’s the view. “We both love being outside and wanted to design the garden in a way that would encourage us to be out there as much as we possibly could,” says Thornley. What screams “Come on out, and bring the chips and salsa with you!” more than a massive natural swimming pool? In the summertime, the couple can unravel the bifold doors so their two kids can seamlessly go from snacking to splashing.

Lydia Geisel Avatar

Lydia Geisel

Home Editor

Lydia Geisel has been on the editorial team at Domino since 2017. Today, she writes and edits home and renovation stories, including house tours, before and afters, and DIYs, and leads our design news coverage. She lives in New York City.